Policy Watch May 2020

COVID 19 – some light at the end of the tunnel

Thank you to all the social services and people supporting New Zealanders during the lockdown. Social services are critical to wellbeing, and helping vulnerable New Zealanders cope through this unprecedented time. You have stepped up to this challenge and are a vital part of keeping communities safe and resilient during this time. My sincere gratitude and thanks to all of you working to support our communities in these times of crisis. As we start thinking about the next steps, I look forward to continuing to work together as we develop the next phase of our response.”  Hon Carmel Sepuloni

Welcome to the latest Policy Watch e-newsletter highlighting the latest news, research and policy developments relevant to NZCCSS’ core mission to work for a just and compassionate society in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Message from Hon Carmel Sepuloni

NZCCSS is heartened to receive Hon Carmel Sepuloni’s message supporting the critical role played by community-based social services during the lockdown. Members have reported increased collaboration across community organisations and government agencies to support access to housing and food.  The Treasury forecasts on the possible economic impacts of Covid-19, indicate the country has a long way to go before seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. This journey will include a lot of pain across demographics, and almost certainly that pain will be disproportionate across Māori and Pacific communities.  Ongoing collaboration between government agencies and community organisations will be needed beyond lockdown to ensure effective community-based social services are in place to support the growing number of people needing support. 

COVID-19 Plan going forward

The Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed alert level four will continue for one extra week to ensure the gains made are ‘locked in’ and provide some ‘additional certainty’. New Zealand will move to alert level three from 11.59pm on Monday, April 27, and will stay there for two weeks before a further decision on May 11. At the announcement, the PM has clarified the 5 Principles for Alert Level three.  

  1. Stay home. If you are not at work, school, exercising or getting essentials, then you must be at home, the same as at Level 4.
  2. Work and learn from home if you can. We still want the vast majority of people working from home, and children and young people learning from home. At-risk students and staff should also stay at home, and they will be supported to do so. Early learning centres and schools will physically be open for up to Year 10 for families that need them.
  3. Make your business COVID-19 safe. COVID-19 has spread in workplaces, so the quid pro quo of being able to open is doing it in a way that doesn’t spread the virus. Important industries like construction, manufacturing and forestry will be able to open, as will retail so long as it is contactless retail.
  4. Stay regional. You can exercise at parks or beaches within your region, but the closer to home the better. Activities must be safe – keep 2 metres away from anybody not in your bubble. Make minimal trips.
  5. Keep your bubble as small as possible. If you need to, you can expand your bubble a small amount to bring in close family, isolated people or caregivers.
  6. Wash your hands often with soap. Then dry them. Cough into your elbow. 
  7. If you’re sick stay at home and seek advice from your GP or Healthline about getting a test. And quickly. There is no stigma to COVID-19. None. We will only be successful if everyone is willing to play their part in finding it wherever it is.

Analysis of NZCCSS COVID-19 Survey

At the end of week 2 of the Covid-19 Lockdown, NZCCSS surveyed social services organisations to gain insight into the impacts of the Covid-19 Lockdown on the work and practice of social service organisations, and on the whanau, families and communities they serve. The survey provides valuable insight into how services are adapting to an online working environment, where it is working and where there are difficulties, and how lockdown is impacting on vulnerable families, and whanau.

Some of the key findings from the survey:

  1. Some organisations were well equipped to respond to the online working environment and provided staff with equipment to support at-home offices and working environment. Others with less IT resourcing have struggled to ensure the required level of connectivity.
  2. Social Workers in Schools, and Social Workers working with vulnerable children in the community have a range of concerns about working remotely.
  3. The impact on caregivers and the inability to provide respite support is impacting on foster parents, particularly single caregivers.
  4. The additional stress of lockdown on whanau and families was identified as a significant issue. These impacts included access to food, to services and supports.
  5. Some families are self-medicating with alcohol and other substances, others are struggling to access the alcohol and drugs they rely on. This is creating additional stress, sometimes resulting in family violence.
  6. Providers of residential services noted the loss of staff due to age or to impaired immune systems had impacted on their services. Managing staff anxiety and the anxiety of their whanau has also been an issue. 

Read the full analysis of this survey information here.   

Income Support: Lift benefit levels further

At NZCCSS our minds are firmly focussed on the medium to long-term impact of COVID-19 on already poor and vulnerable families, who will now be joined by a new cohort of people who have lost their jobs and livelihoods due to the pandemic.  The availability of adequate income support to those without a job has been a long-standing concern of welfare advocates and the impact of COVID-19 on jobs has heightened these concerns. Earlier this month the Government released an economic response to cushion the social impact of COVID-19 on job losses.   but the reality is that more income support will be needed and for sustained period. The Welfare Expert Advisory Group   (WEAG)’s  identified the disparity between benefit payments and an adequate income as between $50 per week to $230 per week. The WEAG report remains a credible blueprint to a modernised welfare system.

Is it time to lift tax rates for the better off?

Dr Simon Chapple of Victoria University of Wellington, has put forward a compelling argument to lift personal tax rates of high-income people until the country returns to pre-COVID-19 unemployment levels. These are the hard all-of-society conversations we will have over the coming months as the full impact of job losses and incomes is experienced. Leadership has already been seen by the Prime Minister who has taken a 20 percent pay cut alongside her ministers and public sector Chief Executives. Who’s next?

Resources

Community Law Manual 2019-20 – order your copy now

Presbyterian South National is co-ordinating a bulk order for the Community Law Manual 2019-20. This is a trail-blazing resource that helps New Zealanders (and their advocates) help themselves. 

The Manual contains almost 1000 pages of easy-to-read legal info, on just about every area of community and personal life. Re-released every year in July, the Manual provides comprehensive answers to common legal questions.

If you want to join the bulk order and get a discounted price, email  Vicky.Prout@ps.org.nz <

There is a bulk order discount of $135 for 10 copies.

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